A Spalted-Oak Cradle

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The cradle ends are curved on the bottom so the cradle will rock.

Ever wonder how a truly gifted woodworker creates his or her most attractive pieces? Often enough, it’s simply done by letting nature take its course — a practice that isn’t beyond the capability of even the more modest home crafters among us.

The infant oak cradle we’re presenting here — built by staffer Dean Davis for a coworker celebrating his family’s first child — serves to point up just what we mean: Rather than cutting the wood into intricate shapes and relying on a stain to highlight the grain, Dean took pains to select naturally formed and accentuated stock and to let the wood’s inherent irregularities define relevant borders.

“I chose the spalted oak for its character. And though the spalting represents early stages of rot, I was careful to select sound slabs caught at just the right stage of decay. Since the cradle’s depth precluded using one-piece boards, I had to rip the lumber into random widths and butt-and-glue the pieces together to achieve the necessary dimensions.”

The bassinet’s finished size came to 14″ x 24″ x 30 1/2″. The end boards are 3/4″ thick, and the floor and sides were planed to 3/8″. The taper — from 19 x1/2″ at the top to 12″ at the bottom — figures out to 20° from vertical (for those with a geometrical bent). By the same token, the arc of the rockers, which dictates the duration of the cradle’s to-and-fro action, is relatively mild and can be established on a cardboard template by swinging a pencil on a 4′ string radius.

To maintain the handcrafted flavor of the piece, Dean insisted on traditional end-to-side and bottom joints. “I went with full mortise and tenon joints at the main corners to show the end grain, and kept the tenons to 3/8″ x 2″, with rounded edges. The mortises — which I made with a router, but which could be fashioned with a drill and chisel — are spaced 2 1/4″ apart. A 1/4″ hardwood dowel pin, set perpendicular to the tenon’s face, secures each of the 12 unions. The only tricky spots were in the rockers themselves, because I had to start the pin sockets about an inch and a half from the joints and then use 2″-long dowels, rather than the shorter one-inchers.”

The remaining joints — specifically those between the bottom and the sides and ends — were merely secured with appropriately sized 1 1/8″ dowels (though wire brads could also be used) that were tapped through the walls and into the edge of the flooring … which, naturally, was beveled at the sides to form a perfect match with its tapered mates.

After giving the entire cradle an even sanding with progressively finer grades of paper, Dean hand-finished the piece inside and out with Hope’s 100% tung oil — a product that the manufacturer claims contains no petroleum distillates whatever and thus was a sound choice for an infant’s environment.

We think you’ll agree that Mother Nature provided an exemplary design for the Davis cradle, and we know that both proud parents and baby Jade Alysen are pleased that she did.